A Life of Their Own

There’s an old saying about what happens when you assume. You’ve probably heard it; it’s largely negative.

But here’s the thing – it’s impossible not to assume. You have to start with a base idea of what’s going on around you. You can’t walk into a restaurant and say, “Ah, a room of some kind! I don’t want to make any assumptions about what goes on here, so I’ll just walk up to the closest other human and ask them to explain the nature of this place to me.” In addition to seeming like a lunatic, this method would also just be painfully slow at gathering information.

No, it’s fine to make assumptions. If you walk into a restaurant, you can safely assume that someone there will direct you to a seat, take an order from you, deliver food that mostly matches your assumptions, and then charge you a price you assumed you’d pay.

Assumptions themselves aren’t dangerous; they’re necessary. It’s when we let them off the leash and allow them to take on a life of their own that they become dangerous.

Unfortunately, our brains aren’t great at separating out kinds of information, especially over the long term. It stores it all in generally the same place, and it doesn’t readily differentiate between “information with numerous backing sources and logical cohesion” and “stuff you made up.” So it’s really easy to get accidentally caught up in knowledge that you think you have. Then soon that knowledge gets used as the basis for something else, and before you know it you have a whole universe of false information.

You need to find a way to check your assumptions. Some people are naturally pretty good at this, but others aren’t – and it’s a vital skill to develop. It’s worth cultivating a healthy habit of asking yourself, “Do I know that for certain, or am I leaning too heavily on an assumption?” Check sources and keep track of what you only think to be true.

Unpleasant rumors, bad plans, and even animosity between people can all come from unchecked assumptions that have run wild. Keep them as the theoretical concepts they were meant to be.

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